Canton woman nominated as women's history honoree for being first woman in country to earn doctorate in aerospace engineering
Friday, February 1, 2013 - 5:50 pm

CANTON -- Lois Graham of Canton was nominated as a National Women’s History Project honoree for this year’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

Over 100 nominations from around the country were submitted. Graham was nominated by the St. Lawrence County branch of the American Association of University Women.

Although Graham was not selected, her life story reflects this year’s history month theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Graham’s first ambition was to be a doctor, but the expense of medical school set that goal out of reach.

Fascinated with flight, Graham wanted to become an aviatrix, and then thought about becoming an airline stewardess, "But there were height and weight restrictions, and I literally outgrew that choice," she said.

After settling on aeronautical engineering as a possible career, she opted for courses in engineering. In 1945, Lois and another classmate were the first women to graduate with bachelor's degrees from RPI.

She worked as a test engineer at the Carrier Corporation, until she found the job repetitive and boring, and was told that because of her youth the company would not give her more responsibility.

Graham was about to start teaching at the Albany School of Education when she was offered a graduate assistantship at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which had decided to admit women to their Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering (MMAE) department.

As the first ever female on staff, a small closet had to be converted to a washroom for her. When she asked why she was not getting raises like the other faculty members, she was told that she didn't need them because she was married.

Graham stayed with the MMAE Department at IIT for 39 years, earning her Masters in Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering in 1949, the first woman to do so at the college.

In 1959, Graham became the first woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in this field. She became a full professor in 1975. Throughout her career, Lois encouraged more women and minority students into the program.

In 1999, IIT recognized Graham as a “Person of the Millennium,” as someone who would make a difference into the next millennium.

Upon retirement, Graham and her husband moved to Cedar Lake, Edwards, and then to Canton.

The National Women’s History Project 2013 Gazette is available for download at www.nwhp.org/whm/2013nwhp_gazette.pdf. Graham’s name appears on page 12 among the list of all nominees.

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch of AAUW is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW. AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.

For more information contact Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu, or Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html.